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Getting political

This Saturday just gone, I had the pleasure of attending a counter-protest to oppose the English Defence League march through Cambridge.

The EDL were marching against the construction of a Mosque in one of the most culturally diverse streets in the city. About 350 people were on the EDL march; according to reports, they mostly arrived by coach and train from other cities, and our city was one of a handful scheduled as part of an organised demonstration.

A thousand people turned out to oppose them, from the city and surrounding towns and villages. Local Muslims, Trade Union representatives, the Cambridge Socialists, Cambridge and Cambridge University Labour Parties and the Member of European Parliament (MEP) for the East of England marched all around the city, in some cases to the applause of onlookers.

As we marched down the final street – the site of the new Mosque – people came came out and gave us bottles of water and samosas, drummers lined the march route and our numbers swelled to about 1500 for the final leg and the Love Music, Hate Racism after-party.

More than 650 officers and staff from six forces policed the event, and did a sterling job, with no violence along our march route and five arrests after the two marches dispersed.

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I could never support the things the EDL claims to be against (they were founded in response to flag burning and hate campaigns against British soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan), but their language and actions are loathsome. At the heart of the EDL is a far-right anti-Muslim group, founded by a British National Party member and initially comprised of ‘firms’ of organised football hooligans.

I am proud to live in a city that so resoundingly rejects racism and bigotry, especially when it comes dressed up as patriotism. I love my country and the things that make it great, but the EDL isn’t one of them.

Anti-plastic: deodorant

My last anti-plastic post was a bit telling of my priorities, I expect. Trying to modify my diet has left me a little obsessed. Food is great, and it may well be the primary source of plastic in my life, but it isn’t the only one. The next big hurdle is personal hygiene.

First, a disclaimer. I don’t shave my underarms, nor have sensitive skin, I’m not allergic to anything that I know of and  I’m switching from a men’s roll-on anti-perspirant/deodorant (I seem to sweat a lot, and women’s anti-perspirants don’t seem to work for me).

First, I tried Lush’s aromarant deodorant block, which was a bit pricy (but evens out when you consider how long it lasts), but smells nice and works pretty well. I had no smell and no wetness while using it. Unfortunately, I used it for a week before an allergic reaction left me with with sore, red underarms and peeling skin. (it seems I’m not alone in this: [link]). The Lush website says ‘pat on dry skin’, so I may be doing it wrong.

I went back to my normal roll-on  to give my skin a chance to recover. I ordered a box of bicarbonate of soda (also called baking soda or baking powder, depending on where you live) from the internet and bought a soft brush for when the commercial stuff ran out.

My roll-on ran out yesterday, so this morning I applied the soda (or at least, tried to apply it) directly to my underarms – straight out of the box, with no messing about. I don’t yet understand how it works and, given the quantity of grit now on my bathroom floor, I’m inclined to think it hasn’t (I’m very gad I didn’t try this while standing on carpet). I think one of my armpits might have still been a bit damp, and it’s retained some of the soda, which is kind of scratchy and unpleasant, but we’ll see how it goes.

[EDIT] Badly. Very, very badly. People on the internet who claim to put this straight onto their skin are either masochists or misanthropic sadists. I’ll be thrice-damned and blind before put this stuff straight into my armpits again.

Other things to try with bicarb:

  • Adding cornstarch or cornflour to the soda, in a 6:1 mixture [link]
  • Adding essential oils (Patchouli, Lavender, Peppermint, Spearmint, Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Rosemary, Cinnamon and Clove) [link]
  • Mixing into a paste with with water (1/8 tsp soda dissolved in 1/4 tsp water; if water easily rinses away the “slimy” feel of sodium bicarbonate, you’ll need to use more. If water does not easily rinse it away, you’ll need less) [link]
  • Mix into a paste with 2 TB corn starch, 2 TB baking soda, 2 TB olive oil and a few drops of essential oils
  • Equal parts baking soda, cornstarch, and coconut oil

If the bicarb doesn’t work, I have a few backup plans:

  • 3 Tablespoons shea butter
    3 Tablespoons baking soda
    2 Tablespoons corn starch
    2 Tablespoons cocoa butter
    2 vitamin E oil gel caps (puncture and squeeze out the oil)
    Essential Oil (e.g.: ylang yang and orange)
  • The crystal deodorant I saw in the rocks and fossils shop. Apparently, this only works on clean, bacteria-free pits, and still contains aluminium (not sure if I’m worried about this at the moment, but it’s something to bear in mind).
  • The Aromarant seemed to work quite well, so I wouldn’t mind trying Lush’s sensitive skin deodorant Aromaco at some point.
  • Wads of sage under the arms is fairly unappealing, but misting a sage dilution into my armpits is a bit more promising.
  • Cider vinegar is right at the bottom of the list – I don’t have a lot of time in the morning to get rid of the vinegar smell.

More reading:

http://angrychicken.typepad.com/angry_chicken/2008/07/homemade-deodor.html

Besom and staff

I bought a besom on Saturday. I’m not sure why, which made explaining my fiancé and his mum’s questions about why I bought it and what I’ll use it for difficult. I regret the stupid answers I gave.

I was conflicted for a while – should I have made it? Do I need it? Will I use it? What for? I’m a druid, not a witch. Is my fiancé right, and was it a waste of money?

In the end, I bought it because I like it, and because some part of me thinks that it’s important and that I should have one. Even if I only ever use it as a yard broom.

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I also bought a sturdy stick which is taller than I am and has a fork at the top. I’m not calling it a stag, because I have no idea what it is yet, nor what it’s for, but I’ a lot more definite about this than I was about the broom.

I also bought it because it seemed important.

I REALLY like the stick. It has grooves spiralling around it where a vine used it as support. Parts of the vine are still there, where the three grew around it. This all seems significant.

I want to hang charms, feathers, bones and bells from it (I want to hang charms, feathers, bones and bells from everything at the moment). I want to mount a skull in the fork and to carve or burn symbols into the wood. I want to do all sorts of things that would eventually make it look like a prop from a third-rate occult thriller from the 80s, but I won’t. I need to be sensible about this, and curb my enthusiasm. I trust that these things will come as and when and if they’re needed.

But maybe a few bells won’t hurt?

Cutting back on plastic

Perhaps there’s something in the water (no pun intended), but a number of the bloggers and vloggers I read/watch have written about plastic waste, the impact it’s having on marine life, and the need to cut the volume produced. With that in mind, I’ve spent a few days becoming more aware of the plastics I use on a regular basis, and – frankly – I’m shocked at how much of it there is in my life.

The option to run off into the wild and start a homestead, living an entirely carbon-neutral, closed cycle existence isn’t available to me; I’m a suburban kid at heart and an inveterate geek, but I can and should do something to reduce the severity of my impact on the Earth. Plastic-free isn’t an option – there’s just too much of it in modern life (also: the lenses in my glasses are plastic, and I like being able to see), but a reduction amount plastic I consume is both manageable and desirable. Maybe I can work down to an almost plastic-free arrangement, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

I’m going to start by eliminating single-use plastic; it’s easily the worst offender as it can’t be recycled, and goes more-or-less straight to landfill.

  • Carrier bags: I have a couple of fold-away bags-for-life I can keep with me. Where I was using them as bin liners, perhaps paper liners are available
  • Cups from the watercooler: use ceramic mugs instead
  • Cling film: I’m going to start using Tupperware to take food to work in (replacing plastic with a different sort of plastic, but at least I’m not just going to chuck the Tupperware when I’ve eaten lunch)
  • Packaging: This is a biggie, but I’m going to try, as much as possible, to buy things and food that isn’t shrink-wrapped or overly packaged*

~~~

I’m going to be honest here, the scale of the problem has really shocked and overwhelmed me; I may be naïve, but I hadn’t realised how bad the problem really is in other parts of the world (see: Our Today is Forever, below), and the concept that this stuff never goes away is mind-boggling.
Saying things like ‘the maximum “plastic density” [in the gyre] was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre’ is entirely academic. I can’t visualise a square kilometre – let along two hundred thousand pieces of one centimetre-square plastic – but show me a harbour with so many plastic bottles bobbing around it that you can’t see the water, or an albatross’ stomach packed full of binbags and bottle tops, and I’ve got a way to internalise that data.

More importantly, I’ve got an image I can call up next time someone asks “Do you want a carrier bag?”

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TED: Tough truths about plastic pollution (trigger warning: dead animals)

YouTube: Our Today is Forever (trigger warning: dead animals)

BBC: Plastic rubbish blights Atlantic Ocean

Daily Mail: Killed by pollution

5 gyres

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* After two days, I’m finding this bit considerably harder than I thought it would be. No pre-made sandwiches or takeaway food (maybe pizza, possibly Indian), no convenience meals, no snacks except fresh fruit (unless I make it myself) and no treats, except individual Cadbury’s Creme Eggs (foil wrapping FTW).

Fizzy pop is possibly justifiable (in reduced quantities) because the bottles and tins are recyclable, and sweets or fast food in paper bags likewise, but any other junk foodstuff is right out. My diet will improve; my disposition not so much.

Spontaneous visions

A couple of odd things happened this last week.

Firstly, I have been dragging my carcase out of bed at 06:30 to do early morning meditations (that’s not the odd thing). Since I’m still finding my feet, I’m reading the Dorling Kindersley 101 Essential Tips: Basic Meditation and trying out different things here and there.

I was doing the door-and-stairs bit – visualise a door and go through it, descend the stairs you find and go from there – and I ended up in a corridor lined with doors. Picking a door at random, I opened it and entered. I found myself deep underwater and above a drowned city, barely visible in the murk below, and felt a terrible sense of unease – as if I were in a Lovecraftian horror. Not wanting to face the inevitable Shoggoth monstrosity, I visualised a door and departed. So far, so normal (for me, anyway)

Back in the corridor, I opened another door and entered into a cave. Tall and deep and sandy-floored, this is the cave I use when I go walkabout. I knew that the end of the cave leads down into the Lower World, but I avoided it; I haven’t been out on the beach much and I felt like exploring. Turning, I found that the cave had been blocked. The walls ware still brightly lit, as though the cave mouth was open to the sky, but huge boulders blocked my path. A voice echoed inside my head – ‘now you’re trapped, and will never be king’. I knew the woman whose voice I could hear and could call her to mind easily – tall and imperious, with alabaster skin and raven hair, and dressed in black from head to toe, like Morgana leFay in an 80s BBC drama.

Confident that I couldn’t be trapped there, I opened my eyes, and shut them again very quickly – I knew that I wasn’t fully in my body, but was looking at the world from just above and behind my head. I couldn’t just get up and walk off; I knew had to finish this properly, so I went to the back of the cave and through the tunnel into the Lower World.

When I started journeying, the books I read suggested forming a ‘safe place’ within the Other Worlds that you could venture forth from, or retreat to, and that’s where I ended up. It had changed some since the last time I visited, but was still familiar and – most importantly – safe. Salmon was waiting for me in the pool in the middle, and I knew that was where my exit would be found, so I waded in and spent a few, wordless, moment with him, before completely submerging myself, visualising my exit and leaving.

~~

At the public Vernal Equinox ritual/Full Moon Grove on Saturday, we did a ‘grow new habits’ spell. Once again, I had no idea what  I was doing and just went along with what I was told.

I thought hard about what I wanted to grow and spread the seeds around the ritual space, still thinking about my intentions, then returned to the circle. Since it was my first spell, I wasn’t sure it would work, so I added a bit of personal visualisation to reinforce the affirmations I’d been repeating to myself.

I visualised the seeds germinating, and the tiny shoots emerging from the soil … and promptly lost control of the visualisation. The shoots erupted from the ground, twined together into a large tree, came into leaf and presented me with a large, dark red apple. I took the apple and took a bite before returning to reality.

~~

It’s the second meditation session in six months that’s turned around and done its own thing, and – if the visualisation during the ritual is anything to go by – it seems to be getting more common. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I have a suspicion that I’m being called back to journey-work.

Just before Yule, I was looking for a book to get more information on pendulum dowsing and the possibilities and avenues of enquiry open to dowsers (as opposed to a more introductory text). Confronted by dozens to books on the subject on Amazon (Cambridge is becoming increasingly bereft of bookshops in general, never mind Pagan bookshops), and with no way to decide which one would be best, based on my requirements, I opted to consult Quartz on the topic. She directed me straight to D. J. Conway’s Little Book of Pendulum Magic. I had Conway’s Celtic Shamanism book for a while and, although I liked it at first, it began to grate after a while and my opinion of Conway as an author decreased. I wouldn’t have purchased her pendulum book, but for Quartz’s insistence that this is the book I want over of all the others.

I reasoned that there’s no point asking for answers you’re not going to act on, hit ‘buy’ and waited. When the book turned up, it was exactly what I wanted. Score plus-one for dowsing!

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There are a number of considerations to be made when divining, the most important of which seems to be formulating the question.

I’ve amassed a number of guidelines to help formulate questions; most of them have been culled from Jessica Mac Beth’s book, which accompanies Brian Froud’s Faerie Oracle cards, but I’ve also been looking at a number of other online sources which corroborate MacBeth’s suggestions. I’ve reworded the guidelines to be applicable to pendulum dowsing, but they seem a fairly sensible ground to start from in any dowsing or divination practice (I’ll probably end up eating those words when I get around to Ogham or runic divination…).

Start with binary answers:

Bad: “Which job should I apply for?”

Good: “Should I apply for [job]?”

Unless used with a talking board or a chart, a pendulum can only really give two answers, so it can only answer questions with two possible outcomes. Anything else will give a confusing reading, if it gives one at all.

Don’t combine questions:

Bad: “Does [person] like me; and can I make him/her think better of me?”

Good: “Does [person] like me?” – “Can I make him/her think better of me?”

Any time a question has a conjunction in it (‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘nor, ‘yet’ or ‘so’) in it, check it to see if you can refine it into to two or more separate questions.

Specific questions are specific:

Bad: “Is it going to rain?”

Good: “Is it going to rain in [place] today?”

Use places, times, dates and names to make the questions as focused as possible. Get specific – vague answers result in vague questions.

Assume responsibility:

Bad: “Will [issue] be resolved in my favour?”

Good: “Is there anything can I do to increase the chances of [issue] being resolved in my favour?”

Active questions allow room for change and assume responsibility for the outcome. Nothing is set in stone except the past.

Act with integrity:

Bad: “Is [personA] cheating on [personB]?”

Good: N/A

Asking questions about a third-party is gross breach of trust; if a question would be inappropriate to answer by non-mystical means, don’t ask it.

Manners never go amiss:

Bad: “Tell me: should I take the job and move to [country]; clockwise for yes, anti-clockwise for no.”

Good: “Please tell me: should I take the job and move to [county]?”

I don’t know what causes the pendulum to move, but I believe that minding your Ps and Qs are the best course of action, especially when dealing with the unknown. Even if it turns out I’m talking to my self and my subconscious, a little self-respect goes a long way ^_~

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Although a degree of fluidity is necessary during penduluming sessions, I think that a brief list of topics I intend to cover would be best , in the beginning at least. I can use that to get an idea of how many questions I can ask before I start getting nonsense answers, prevent myself from getting sidetracked and check my questions before I pose them. Creating a whole conversation tree seems like overkill but, if the list of question is fixed, it presupposes the answers – in which case there’s probably no point in asking the questions.

The first thing I learned about the occult was that words have power – they shape people’s perceptions and thereby shape reality.

Recently, an article posted by WitchVox’s FaceBook channel has caused some rather lively debate, and got me thinking about the way that the Pagan community describes and defines itself and its practice.

In short, a man in the USA has, during the course of some genealogical research, uncovered a death in the 16th century that was attributed to witchcraft. He laments the trivialisation of witchcraft on contemporary pop-culture and ends the article with an expression of his Christian faith. The comments got a bit rowdy – “we’re being slandered AGAIN!”, “further evidence of women’s oppression throughout history” and so on.

Having just finished Wilby’s Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, I was left wondering something else entirely: ‘Why ‘witches’?’

Why have Pagan magical practitioners chosen the word ‘witch’ to describe themselves? It is a loaded word, heavy with history and with negative connotations. We could describe ourselves as ‘good witches’, white witches’ (for those that don’t get squicked by the inherent racist connotations) or ‘healing witches’, but it all seems like qualifying or mitigating a word that – in my opinion – didn’t need to be used in the first place. There are lots of words to describe magical practitioners – magician, pellar, wizard, cunning wo/man, druid, sage, mystic, occultist (actually, that’s not much better in terms of negative connotations), mage or magus, medicine man, priest/ess, duivelbanner, toverdokter, Hexenmeister, kloge folk, klok gumma/gubbe, curandero, saludador, benandanti, dyn hysbys, seiðr, shaman, táltos, houngan, devins-guérisseurs, leveurs de sorts… – some of them are inappropriate for the intended purpose and others shouldn’t be used outside of a specific tradition, admittedly, but the point is that we aren’t limited to words in current use, or English words, or even words that are real words. At some point, for some reason, we’ve chosen ‘witch’ as our go-to word to describe (almost) any Pagan magical practitioner.

It could be reasoned that ‘witch’ is any magical practitioner, and certainly that fits with the etymology of the word, but in CF&FS, Wilby shows that a distinction was made between cunning folk, who use their spirit familiars largely for beneficial purposes, and witches, who use their spirit familiars largely for malevolent purposes. That’s a distinction drawn by the witches’ peers, not the academics and authorities, and even that definition was based on the way the familiar relationship was utilised most of the time. Some witches healed and some cunning folk cursed, but in terms of encountering or acquiring these spirits, in the descriptions, behaviour, demeanour and demands of the familiars there are profound similarities.

‘Witch’ has been used to describe bad people for a long time, and the archetype is entrenched in our mythological and cultural history. While it isn’t be impossible to reclaim or redefine a word, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort to do it with a word still in common parlance.

Which is which I find it curious that strident voices are being raised every time the word ‘witch’ is mentioned in a negative context. It’s a negative word. If Pagans don’t want to be confused with people who curse their neighbours over a perceived slight and worshipped devils (as the authorities saw it), they shouldn’t call themselves the same thing! The men and women who were killed during the witch trials era were not Pagans (they certainly weren’t Wiccans), they were Christians with lingering pre-Christian beliefs, and they were tried and punished for (in most cases) doing nasty things to other people using magic.

I’m not the boss of anyone’s pants but my own; I’m not trying to make anyone change what they define themselves as, but I’ve given it some thought, and I am not comfortable with calling myself a witch. I won’t do it, I won’t let other people do it and I won’t support them if they get a bee in their bonnet about people calling witches evil. If a person wants to get snippy about how they and their religious practices get represented in the media, perhaps they should try giving some considered thought to the words they use when describing them to others.

They shape their own reality with those words. If they don’t like it, change it. In the end, that’s what magic is for.